IT'S NOT OFTEN that upon walking into a childrenswear boutique you experience fashion envy. Yet few grown-ups would deny that after discovering the chic and very Parisian wares of Bonpoint, they could easily picture themselves clad in one of the maison's perfectly styled but effortless children's outfits.
Founded in 1975 on the Left Bank by Bernard and Marie-France Cohen – also the powers behind one of the city's temples of nonchalant chic, the Marais boutique Merci – Bonpoint is the closest thing to a couture house for tots. With shops in upscale locations such as Rue Royale in its hometown of Paris, Madison Avenue in New York and Prince's Building in Hong Kong, Bonpoint is a true luxury player, with a successful beauty line and a cult fragrance developed by renowned nose Annick Goutal.
What Bonpoint does best, however, is flawlessly executed couture confections for children, dreamed up every season by its talented creative director, Christine Innamorato.
“I'm not just making clothes for children,” says Innamorato about her approach to design. “I also think of the parents who will buy them. Bonpoint is like a total lifestyle because when the parents come and buy for their kids, they often look at stuff and say that they want it for themselves. When I designed the dresses for the flower girls at Kate Moss's wedding, many editors asked me to make versions for them.”
It's no surprise that Moss chose the French house to dress the coterie of girls trailing her down the altar. Although the label's wares are designed with children in mind, they're extremely chic and elegant, and never make kids look as if they're trying too hard.
“The worst is when kids are too sophisticated at the age of 10. Bonpoint is not aggressive, but soft,” explains Innamorato. “Even if our aesthetic is quite sweet, I want it to look modern and I always add a twist, like tomboyish elements to a feminine outfit. I'm not afraid of finding inspirations in films like Paris, Texas or things that have little to do with childrenswear. I love pairing a feminine dress with Doc Martens or cowboy boots or cute Mary Janes with denim pants. I don't want it to be too girly.”
It's true that Bonpoint's dainty embroidered dresses and tomboyish separates don't look too precious and are extremely comfortable, which in children's fashion is obviously a priority, but they also come with price tags that often align with those of top Parisian labels. How does a parent justify spending so much for something their children will soon grow out of?
Innamorato begs to differ: “If you discover Bonpoint, once you buy something, you'll keep it forever and then give it to someone else as a hand-me-down. When I design, I always keep that in mind because Bonpoint is timeless. It's a philosophy of buying less but better quality. Even for children it's important because it's part of their growth and their education. They'll learn about quality, and it's the sentimental value of what they own that they come to appreciate.”
It's also typical of parents to feel less guilty splashing out on a cute outfit for their children rather than themselves, which explains the recent boom of the childrenswear market, with fashion houses from Milan to Paris launching children's lines and opening children-only boutiques to cater to this newfound demand. “It's true,” Innamorato says, “but what fashion brands do is translate their womenswear for children and we don't do that. We design for children first. But just because we're designing for kids, we don't do stuff that's too cutesy but always fun and cool.”
Innamorato, a mother of a nowadult daughter, loves interacting with children on a daily basis and finds their sincerity refreshing. “What I love about kids is their spontaneity,” she says. “They choose the clothes themselves and play with me when I do the fittings. I love that they tell the truth and always tell me when they're not comfortable. For us women, it's OK to suffer to wear a nice pair of shoes, but a kid will tell you. They mention comfort first and then tell me if they like it or not.”
Innamorato also points out that factors such as comfort and ease are priorities when designing for children. “I pay attention to the material, not just the quality but also the feel. It can't be too thick or scratchy. I create stuff that's soft and easy, which I think is what women like too in the end, because even though tailored and rigid silhouettes look good in photos, they're not easy to wear.” Innamorato's vision for the brand comes together every season in the maison's popular fashion show, which takes place in its Parisian boutique on Rue de Tournon during the couture season. It might seem unnecessary for a children's brand to hold a biannual fashion extravaganza but, Innamorato explains, “It's not because we want the glamour of fashion, but because we want to show how to wear a Bonpoint look and how to put together an outfit. Besides, I don't cast children who are already trained as models but regular kids, oftentimes the children of friends or kids I see on the street.”
The autumn/winter 2015 show held this past January was a fun affair filled with bohochic Parisiennes and French and international celebrities with their little ones in tow, not much different from what you would expect an established luxury brand to organise.
Reminiscing that as a child, Innamorato was made to wear a woollen dress that was very scratchy, she adds, “This is something you couldn't do now. Those Shetland wools that were so rough would never be used for kids nowadays.” It's a memory that's still imprinted on her mind, that stiff, uncomfortable dress, which would never pass muster in the rarefied Parisian ateliers where Innamorato and her team execute soft-as-a-feather creations for the best-dressed kids in the world.